By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Cynthia Villar is seeking a Senate inquiry on the government’s disbursement of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) mandated by the rice tariffication law.
Five months after the signing of the Republic Act No. 11203, Villar on Tuesday invoked her committee’s oversight function on the law, filing Senate Resolution No. 39 to look into the distribution of the P10-billion special fund for rice farmers.
Villar was recently reelected as the chairman of Senate Committee and Agriculture and Food. She sponsored the law in Senate in the 17th Congress.
Under the RA 11203, P10 billion of the tariff collections on rice imports shall be appropriated annually for rice farmers through various programs that would help increase their production.
Half of the fund shall be allocated to the Philippine Center for Post Harvest Development and Modernization (PhilMech) to provide farmers with rice farm machineries and equipment; 30 percent to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to be used for the development, propagation, and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers, and the organization of rice farmers into seed growers associations engaged in seed production and trade (30 percent); 10 percent for the credit facility that will be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); 10 percent for farmers’ training on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, farm mechanization, and knowledge or technology transfer.
In her resolution, Villar cited reports that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released in December 2018 P5 billion for the RCEF.
But only P1 billion of the released amount has allegedly been disbursed, Villar said. It was credited to the farmers’ accounts, under the memorandum of understanding entered by the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) with the LBP and DBP.
The remaining P4 billion, meanwhile, was still being threshed out by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).
In a press briefing, Villar said the DA “refused” to issue the appropriations to the concerned agencies as it supposedly questioned its release ahead of the signing of the law in February this year.
“Hindi daw nabigay sa mga agencies…Sabi niya (DA) di pa pasa rice tarrification, hindi naman daw para sa Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. Pero sabi ng DBM, iyon daw ay para sa RCEF. So we will know who’s telling the truth, kasi [their statement are] in conflict,” the senator told reporters.
Aside from the unused fund, Villar also pointed out the delay in the release of PhilMech and PhilRice’s guidelines as to their respective implementation of the RCEF. The guidelines, she said, should have released 15 days after the publication of the law’s implementing rules and regulations.
She also hit as an “irony” the PhilRice’s delay when it earlier announced that the administration was seeking to raise the national average rice yield.
She said the agencies involved in implementation of the law “should be ready by now”, warning that they might miss the planting season on December to March.
“I want them to tell me what would they do — how much are they spending for this, that — that’s very important. We have to make sure that the money is spent properly,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Villar said these issues “are cause for apprehension on whether our rice sector and rice farmers are adequately made ready this early to face the regime of rice import liberalization.”